Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Holiday by Beryl Ensor-Smith

Oom Fanie's orchestra falls apart and he finds himself at a loss, so his daughter-in-law sends him on holiday to Duiwelspoort, in Beryl Ensor-Smith latest delightful slice of Prentburg life.

Losing the last joint on each of three fingers of his right hand was a tragedy for Dolf de Lange. However, the way Oom Fanie carried on about it, anyone would have thought Dolf had deliberately put his hand into the new cutting machine and that the tragedy was Oom Fanie's. Which, in a way, it was, as Dolf was (or had been) one of the three remaining members of Oom Fanie's boere orkes. The past year had seen it decline in number from seven active members to three tired ones. Marius Steyn had been inconsiderate enough to die at age 82. (If he had looked after himself he could at least have reached 90, Oom Fanie grumbled.) Arthritis had overtaken the two Conradie "boys" so that they played more discords than concords on their guitars, finally admitting defeat, and the fourth member (a man of mean spirit, Oom Fanie maintained) had resigned in disgust, saying that the low standard of the remaining members was too evident now that the guitars weren't there to drown them out, and the high standard of his own playing was being adversely affected.

The other three had carried valiantly on, at first loyally supported by the locals. With the passing of time, however, sneaking sympathy developed towards the member who had "finked out" as Oom Fanie put it, for the standard of playing was indeed deplorably low and the tunes played very old-fashioned. When Dolf damaged his hand, it spelt the end of the orkes. Many residents of Prentburg breathed a sigh of relief.

Oom Fanie took it very badly. Since his retirement, his orkes had meant a great deal to him and he felt lost without it. He became even more difficult than usual and his daughter-in-law, Elsie Fourie, normally a placid woman, was driven to desperate measures.

"You do something, or else!" she threatened her husband, Japie. "He's enough to try the patience of a saint."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Prepped by Judy Hall

After losing his wife and daghter in a terrible storm, Jared tries to rebuild his life while preparing for the end of the world; by Judy Hall.

Jared lay on his bed, unable to see, but he could hear snatches of her conversation in the other room. She was on the phone. He tried to move but realized he couldn't.

He tried to remember what had happened. He'd come home with Melody after lunch. She wanted to see his packs again, to see how he'd managed to get so much into his BOB and to the EDC kit that he always had with him ever since Jennifer died.

Jennifer... He could see her in his mind's eye, lying on their bed, in the old Victorian that they were refinishing, rubbing her belly and talking about names. He imagined he could smell her perfume - Envy, by Gucci - although she'd never been in this bed in the city. Her black hair would fall like a halo of obsidian around her small head. She would smile that big smile with her magnificently white teeth. He had always said she should be in toothpaste commercials. That smile was the only thing big about her - and her belly! Eight months pregnant when Sarafina hit.

He had her hands, he had them and then he didn't.

Friday, July 26, 2013

See No Evil by Danielle Lenée Davis

Detective Sydney Valentine is called in by a couple of friends to help find their stolen baby; by Danielle Lenée Davis.

Two pairs of glistening red-rimmed eyes, the color of Hershey's bars, stared back at me. My friends, Veronica and Patrick Harris, faced me from the sectional sofa in their living room. Despair hung in the air like a dense fog. I'm Sydney Valentine and I'm a detective for the San Sansolita Police Department.

"Tell me what happened," I said.

"After Patrick left to go to the store, I went upstairs to take a nap after letting Rusty out." Veronica glanced at Rusty, their Golden Retriever, and sighed. "I've been so tired lately."

"I came home and saw Rusty pacing and whimpering outside the sliding glass door." Patrick looked at Veronica. "I'm surprised you didn't hear him."

She whirled towards him. "I told you." Her face crumpled like the discarded tissues on her lap. "I fell asleep." Her hand shook as she dabbed at her crimson nose.

"Well, like I told the officer earlier... I let Rusty in and he ran past me... to Lucy's room," said Patrick. "Her crib was empty."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Digging for Victory by Jude Ellery

Marl and Oof scheme for the easy life on their island prison, but are they underestimating the guards? By Jude Ellery.

Marl is screwing up his eyes and scratching his bald spot the way he does when he's thinking up a plan.

Oof is pretending to read while watching Marl from behind his book.

For a while the only sounds in the six by eight cell are Oof's heavy breathing and the flicking of cheap comic book pages. Then Oof asks the question.

"What you got brewin', boss?"

Marl raises a finger to say he's not done yet, but soon enough he strolls over to the tiny window and gazes out through the iron bars like a double-shifting detective at a set of venetian blinds.

"This running scheme."

"Yeah boss?"

"It's the pits."

"Yeah boss."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Persian Carpet by Ricky Ginsburg

A hapless burglar prepares his dream heist in Ricky Ginsburg's comedy short.

Tingo Skrachaballi was not the luckiest of burglars. Despite only two brief incarcerations over a six-year career, Tingo was a crook who couldn't roll a seven with a loaded pair of dice.

Take for example the appliance warehouse he'd staked out for a week on River Street by the Brooklyn Bridge. There was no way to foretell that it was going to be torched by its owner, just hours prior to Tingo's planned midnight attack. And how was he to know all the jewelry in Fizzetski's window display were fakes; the real stuff locked safely in an eight-hundred pound Briggs and Wattelsy safe? Fortunately, the judge who presided over that case was bogged down with more pressing matters and the slick mouthpiece Tingo had procured through the Yellow Pages was able to sweep the whole thing away as a thirty-day drunk and disorderly lockup in the local jail, although he did have to pay for the smashed window. (The ill-fated thief didn't even know he'd left a can of beer in his work sack nor did he remember taking a Breathalyzer test.)

Having delved into this line of work late in life, after his fourth try at managing a restaurant had ended in bankruptcy like the three before it, Tingo had spent hours watching cop shows on television to learn what not to do in your standard burglary. He'd purchased several cases of disposable gloves to avoid fingerprints, mixing up the batches so they couldn't be traced back to one point of sale. In order to disguise his height and weight, Tingo wore heavy workboots, three sizes too large, and several pair of thick gym socks. Even though he worked only at night, the hapless crook took great pains to wear bulky clothing and sunglasses lest some passerby might notice him approaching his target.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dear Prudence by Katie Karambelas

Katie Karambelas recounts the painful seaside reunion of union two lovers.

I walk into the light and shade my eyes from the blinding glare of the mid-afternoon sun. Once my eyes adjust, I see a sandy blonde mop of hair in the distance attached to a stately body of muscles. My breath catches as my hand flies to my heart. It's been five years since he went away and even the sight of the back of him makes my body go into overdrive.

He picks up a small, gray rock and tosses it, watching it skip, skip, skip before plunging into the water with a soft thud. I pick up the hem of my dress and trudge towards him over the dead crabs and seashells that crunch under my toes. He doesn't hear me but turns toward me when I'm only a few hundred feet away, as if he feels the energy between us the same as he did before.

I stop, hesitant, dropping my dress to my ankles. His eyes light up at the sight of me but the light doesn't reach the rest of his features that are carved in an unfamiliar frown. I want to run to him like I would have before, but I know that time and distance has changed things. I'm not naïve enough to believe that they haven't.

His palm goes up to his shoulder in a soft wave that's like a whisper meant only for me. Even with the crashing of waves, I can still hear my heart drumming loudly in my chest, aching in a way that it hasn't in a very long time. My feet feel like they're weighted down in cement. Even though I want to close the gap between us and feel the familiar paths of muscle and bone that belong to Xavier, I know that I cannot. I secretly hope that he has the sense to come to me.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

FUBAR by Kenneth Sibbett

Kenneth Sibbett's scathingly bitter account of one soldier's experience with the military.

FUBAR: Fucked-up beyond all repair.

The young soldier, still wearing Dress Greens and carrying his duffle bag, was standing on an off-ramp after leaving a truck stop. He was heading east with his thumb out - well, southeast, but that was as the crow flies, and the interstate has a mind of its own. He was wearing his Dress Greens because it was easier to get a ride looking like a soldier, rather than an ordinary citizen.

He knew it was illegal for him to wear an army uniform now, and he could probably go to jail if a cop stopped him, but, fuck them and the army. The court martial was over. He'd received a dishonorable discharge, was fined all back pay and escorted off the base, with one last order, to leave town. It was that simple. At least the bastards couldn't eat him.

He was 14 years old when the terrorists attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9-11. He had two older brothers who enlisted in the army the next day and fought in Iraq. One died, and one may as well be dead. When it was his turn, at 18, he was standing in line, ready to sign his name, step forward, and say the oath to protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic.

Man, he was proud that day. His brother called him a fucking idiot and told him Uncle Sam would use him, abuse him and throw him out like garbage. He should have listened. His brother, with no legs, one arm and a face pieced together, knew, but until you see it...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Everlasting by Laura Stout

A wandering spirit makes contact with an adventurous little boy in Laura Stout's suspenseful ghost story.

It watched the children with envy; an unsettled envy, directed at their gaiety and freedom. Unseen, it drifted among the feathery branches of willows at the forest edge. Their games of chase conjured familiar pale scenes that roamed the spirit's consciousness. Once it had carried the comfortable heft of flesh and bone; walked with carefree strides across the landscape. But now it was summoned by the shrill and high-pitched laughter of the young and watched, hoping for another chance.

The heat of the day drove itself down upon the children and they escaped to the creek, their bodies splashing among the dead leaves and branches. The water was murky and cool, shaded by monstrous oaks towering along its banks. The spirit hung within the branches of the oaks, wove itself among the leaves and watched. One child in particular caught its attention. The child's name was David. The spirit had heard the other children calling to him as well as chastising him for unwelcome pranks. David was smaller than the others, but more lively. He was the child who jumped from the highest rock and stayed under water the longest, scaring the others with his near drowning. Red hair sprang from his head, and his blue eyes shone with glee.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Japanese Garden by Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin's character is thinking about his Japanese garden when he should be paying more attention to his wife.

It's a beautiful summer's evening and we're having dinner out on the patio. We love dining outside, Wilma and I; it's like being on holiday. That's why I made the patio with its ersatz York stone paving and the raised beds for the herbs in the corners. Who needs the Mediterranean, I always say, when you can have a garden like ours? And gardening is such a healthy hobby for a couple of a certain age; soothing the mind while toning up the body.

Tonight we're having roast chicken and a green salad and the Jersey Royals I dug up less than an hour ago, with a rather elegant South African semillon. Everything is perfect, apart from the fact that I'm still a bit tense from another crazy week at work, so I'm pouring myself another glass of wine to help me put into practice what the doctor said about relaxation. I'm gazing across the lawn to where I'm planning to get started on the Japanese garden this weekend, wondering how long it will take to clear off all the turf, and whether I'll have time to dig the hole for the pond as well.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Big Day by Michael C Keith

Mitch Connelly's first novel is about to be released to the world, and he is so excited he loses concentration at just the wrong moment; by Michael C Keith.

But the days of golden dreams had perished.
 - Emily Bronte

Mitch Connelly woke up excited about the day ahead. An advance copy of his first book, a crime mystery, was due to arrive from the publisher. His anticipation level had been building steadily since his manuscript had been accepted almost a year earlier by one of the better presses. It was one of his dreams come true. The other important dream he had already realized by marrying his college sweetheart. The whole thing was storybook, he thought. "Got the most beautiful girl on campus and now my book... oh my, God, my book!" he squealed and leapt from the bed. When he reached the kitchen, his wife, Jennifer, was already dressed for work and looking drop dead gorgeous.

"Coffee's ready, sleepy head."

"You're going to have to fight off the guys at the office looking like that. Just make sure you do fight them off," said Mitch, kissing Jennifer on the cheek and patting her behind.

"No problem with that. They know where I stand. Married to the best looking crime writer in the whole world."

Mitch gave her a second kiss. "Today is the big day! Hello Pulitzer Prize!" blurted Mitch.

"You need to gain some confidence, honey," joked Jennifer, reaching for her briefcase. "See you later, Robert B. Parker."

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Another Kind of Harmony by Fred Skolnik

Fred Skolnik tells the story of John and Mary, members of a strange race in a red world.

In the red room the figures come and go. In the red light they give off an eerie glow. In the red dust they twist and turn. There is nothing but this: the red light and the figures that come and go. There are no walls in the red room. It is as big as you want it to be. No one can say for certain how their history began. They are like us but not like us. They float through the air, greeting each other cordially in their peregrinations. It is like groping in the dark. Everything is steeped in shadow, dark and red. Who comes? Is it male or female, friend or foe? They float toward us. They veer to the right or to the left. Everything flows. You cannot see them but they are there.

They are intelligent creatures, that much is certain - more intelligent than we will ever be. They communicate as if by magic. They reproduce unwittingly. They do not understand death. Otherwise they are pretty much like us. They laugh and cry. They socialize. They enjoy a good meal.

John and Mary were a couple. They'd known each other since they were kids so naturally enough they stuck together when the time came for the big migration. They drifted south with the others in the laborious way such creatures have, through the red shadows and heavy mist. In truth they thought the world of one another. John saw Mary in the most flattering light, as though she were an angel. Everything about her was perfect in his eyes. Mary thought John was the handsomest creature she had ever seen and would provide for all her needs. He would maintain her and protect her and embrace her before they slept.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Comma in Coma by Irena Pasvinter

An Oxford comma recovers from a heart attack in Irena Pasvinter's amusing grammatical jaunt.

Allow me to introduce myself: Oxford comma. Some call me serial comma, but I prefer Oxford. I hate serial - it's a killers' word. Call me Oxford comma or Harvard comma (if you have a grudge against Oxford).

I bet you've always thought that commas are just speechless punctuation gadgets. Everybody is allowed to abuse commas - commas are not going to complain. This is a lie. I don't care if you believe me or not. I have to tell my story before it's too late.

It's true that I've never spoken out before. I'm not speechless but neither am I talkative. I used to chat only with the neighboring words and punctuation marks, but if I don't talk now, I may not get another chance. I'm not well. Not well at all.

To be more precise, I've spent two weeks in coma in a reanimation unit. Oxford comma in coma - isn't that funny? Not for me. Yesterday I came back to my senses. Today they moved me from reanimation. I spent half a day in a corridor of the cardiac diseases department till they found a place in one of the rooms. By the way, some unlucky marks and words still wait in the corridor - lots of heart diseases in the language land.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Eulogy for Mildred Elman by Candice Carnes

Candice Carnes' mysterious protagonist reflects on the last few weeks of a grumpy old lady's life and her influence on the people around her.

I always thought Mildred Elman was old and not very nice. I've heard rumors that she was nearly one hundred, but even I can't recall her age for sure. In the last year of her life, she began to go deaf and that made her downright intolerable, especially to those blessed souls, like Sandy, who kept going out to her dilapidated house to care for her.

Most conversations Between Sandy and Mildred went something like this:

"Mildred, I'm here from..."

"What?"

"I said I am..." (louder now).

"What? I can't hear you."

"I said..." (shouting now).

"Oh I wish you girls would learn to speak up. You're all so soft spoken."

Sandy never had the opportunity to introduce herself as the new caregiver from the agency, but that never stopped Mildred from giving her too much work to do. "Don't forget to clean up the kitchen when you're done cooking," Mildred would snap, "and don't even think about stealing the silverware. I count it every night."